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Botswana president offers to send 20,000 elephants to Germany

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BERLIN — Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi threatened this week to send 20,000 elephants to Germany after the Environment Ministry floated the idea of banning the import of trophies from endangered species.

It’s not the first time Botswana has offered up the country’s elephants either. When Britain talked about its own ban on importing trophies in March, the environment minister, Dumezweni Mthimkhulu, suggested filling London’s Hyde Park with 10,000 of the majestic animals — though he later called the offer “rhetorical.”

The root of the president’s rather sharp-tongued generosity is the long running tension between those morally opposed to the lucrative business of big game hunting and the impoverished countries which benefit from it — in this case Botswana, home to 130,000 elephants, nearly a third of the world’s population

Trophies from big game hunting are regulated by the international conservation organization CITES through a permit system, but animal rights activists have long called for a complete ban on hunting of endangered species.

‘I hate elephants’: Behind the backlash against Botswana’s giants

Germany, one of the largest importers of hunting trophies in the European Union, imported 26 African elephant trophies last year, according to preliminary numbers from the country’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation.

Animal rights advocates in Europe reject the concept of killing animals for sport and say hunting by tourists will result in the extinction of even more animal species. The opposing side of the debate, which includes not just the trophy hunters but pragmatic conservationists too, say that trophy hunting is controlled, unlike poaching, and has more financial benefits for local communities and conservation than photographic tourism.

Botswana’s offer to Berlin follows a comment from an official in Germany’s Environment Ministry to parliament in February that “imports of hunting trophies of protected species should be banned.” With the coalition unable to agree, however, the ministry will instead “reduce overall imports of hunting trophies of protected species on the basis of species protection measures and, in individual cases, ban them entirely.”

In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also adopted new restrictions on U.S. imports of African elephant hunting trophies and live elephants. The amendment requires, among other things, that “authorized imports of trophies and live elephants will contribute to enhancing conservation and not contribute to the decline of the species.”

Amy Dickman, conservation biologist at the University of Oxford, said Botswana and many other countries are “really fed up” with Western countries dictating how they handle their natural resources.

“Telling them what to do with their wildlife is seen as very hypocritical, particularly around this issue of trophy hunting,” Dickman said, pointing to the deep-seated tradition of domestic hunting in Britain, the United States and Germany. “It seems deeply hypocritical to these countries to say, ‘do as we say, not as we do.’”

Speaking to German tabloid Bild, Masisi argued that Germany’s planned restrictions on trophy hunting promoted poverty and poaching in Botswana and damaged the country.

“It is very easy to sit in Berlin and have an opinion about our affairs in Botswana. We are paying the price for preserving these animals for the world,” he said. The Germans should “live with the animals the way you try to tell us to.”

“This is no joke,” he added.

Masisi blamed decades of conservation efforts for the “overpopulation” of elephants and said herds are causing damage to property, eating crops and trampling residents. He has said in the past that the elephant population, which nearly doubled between 1996 and 2014 thanks to strict anti-poaching measures, was too much for the fragile, drought-stricken environment, home to just 2.5 million people.

Botswana banned trophy hunting in 2014 but lifted the restrictions in 2019 following pressure from local communities. A 2017 report found that the local communities were particularly affected by the loss of income, jobs and provision of social services as a result of the ban. The country now issues annual hunting quotas.

Dickman, who doesn’t advocate hunting herself, said governments should be cautious about being driven solely by the concerns of animal protection groups.

“They want [wildlife] managed in this utopian, kind of Disneyesque way; that we should just leave wildlife alone, and it will be fine. And I think that’s just not the reality of wildlife conservation anymore. It’s increasingly having to be managed alongside human development, making sure that there’s enough space for wildlife while balancing that with human needs and development and ensuring there’s enough revenue coming in.”

At the same time, trophy hunting should not be confused with a means of population control, Dickman said. The benefit for affected areas, she says, lies in the revenue. A cursory online search puts 12-day hunting packages at around $50,000 — though it unclear how much of that reaches the locals.

“Botswana issues permits of maybe a few hundred in a year. So [trophy hunting] is never going to affect the population at the country level. It’s relatively small numbers of animals. It’s highly regulated, but it brings in large amounts of revenue per tourist,” she added.

Animal protection groups, however, have long contested the financial benefits for communities and conservation. A January 2024 report, supported by more than 30 NGOs, claims that “quotas are rarely based on reliable scientific data, and are typically designed or found to be abused to maximise profits.”

“The main beneficiaries of hunting revenues are hunting outfitters, officials or government entities managing hunting, and foreign hunting tour operators.”

In some cases, Masisi’s elephant offers have borne fruit. Some 8,000 elephants have already been given to neighboring Angola and another 500 to Mozambique.

“And that’s exactly how we would like to offer such a gift to Germany,” said Masisi. “We won’t take no for an answer.”

A German Environment Ministry spokesperson told The Post that Botswana has not yet contacted them regarding this matter.

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